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Buy Now, Drink Later: A Guide to Aging Beer

Photo by David Monroe, via Flickr

Most beer is never better than the day it leaves the brewery, but certain beers, properly kept, improve with age. As we shift away from the strong, dark beers of winter to spring’s lighter fare, it’s time to make one last run to the beer store and stock up on a few select heavies to store away for the future.

The most common beers to age are the ones usually enjoyed during winter: barley wines, imperial stouts, and Belgian tripels and quads. In general, beer styles that age well have alcohol levels over 8 percent, high levels of bittering hops, and some residual sugar. Traditional barleywines in particular are meant to be aged. Over time, the style’s bready malt flavors transform into nutty, chocolaty, and toffee flavors.

Aging beers is similar to aging wine – bottles are best stored in a dark place with a cool constant temperature. But unlike wines that need to be stored on their sides to prevent the corks from drying out, capped beer bottles are best stored upright. Both corked and capped bottles allow a small amount of oxidizing, which helps with productive aging.

It you’re buying from your local craft beer store, the people who work there may be able to advise you on what beers you might best enjoy after aging them. But don’t think you need to buy an exotic Belgian Trappist ale to get something age-worthy; northern California has some excellent beers to age in the bottle. 

Almanac’s Dogpatch Sour

This barrel-aged wild ale pays tribute to the Flanders Red style of beer. Aged in wine barrels, this lightly tart ale is brewed with California Rainier cherries using a blend of wild yeasts, bacteria, and San Francisco sourdough yeast. Since this is one of Almanac’s Farm to Barrel Beers, it also means that the yeasts and bacteria are still alive in the bottle and will shape the flavor for the next two or three years.

Anchor's Old Foghorn

First brewed in 1975, Anchor uses traditional English techniques to brew this barleywine. Then, they dry hop with Cascade while the beer ages in the cellars because, hey, this is San Francisco not London. Hop forward beers are not normally aged once bottled, but Old Foghorn may be an exception.

Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot

Sierra’s highly sought after barleywine makes its regular appearance during the winter. They’ve been brewing this beer since 1983 and its fans have been successfully aging it nearly that long. If you want to taste what two or three years of bottle aging can do for a beer, Bigfoot is a great choice.

Speakeasy’s Old Godfather Barleywine

This barleywine is the first of what Speakeasy calls their Infamous Series: three styles of small batch barrel-aged brews. Old Godfather hit the shelves last month and will likely be sold out by the end of this one, so get it while you can.

If you'd like to sample some properly aged beers but don’t have the patience or space to start your own collection, check out Monk’s Kettle. They have their own cellaring program and the staff can guide you through their extensive menu.